Characterization of a smart pH-cleavable PEG polymer towards the development of dual pH-sensitive liposomes

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To facilitate the development of PEG-cleavable pH-sensitive liposomes (CL-pPSL), this study aimed to fully characterize a new pH-sensitive polymer, PEGB-Hz-CHEMS. Polyethylene glycol (PEG) functionalised with 4-carboxybenzaldehyde (PEGB) was linked to cholesteryl hemisuccinate (CHEMS) via an acid labile hydrazide–hydrazone hybrid bond (-CO-NH-N=CH-) to form PEGB-Hz-CHEMS. The polymer was post-inserted into DOPE/CHEMS liposomes to form CL-pPSL. A validated stability-indicating HPLC-UV method was developed with the aid of multiple linear regression for the mobile phase. The assay was used to evaluate the pH-sensitivity, pathways of cleavage of the polymer and the PEGylation degree of CL-pPSL. The pH-sensitivity of CL-pPSL was compared with conventional PEGylated pH-sensitive (pPSL) using a calcein leakage assay. At 37°C, PEGB-Hz-CHEMS was relatively stable at pH 7.4 with a half-life of 24h. In comparison, at pH 5.5 and pH 6.5 PEG detachment within 1h was determined as 80%, and 50%, respectively. PEG detachment of the polymer was through simultaneous cleavage of the hydrazine (CO-N) and hydrazone (N=C) bonds, depending on pH, thus the polymer is more pH-sensitive than those with a hydrazine bond only. The grafting densities of PEGB-Hz-CHEMS on CL-pPSL were optimised to achieve a PEG density of 1.7% (mol). The unilamellar CL-pPSL (123nm) were shown to be sable at least for 3months at 4°C and have enhanced pH-sensitivity compared with pPSL in the calcein leakage assay. Therefore, the smart cleavable PEG polymer is promising in liposome formulation to overcome the PEG dilemma.

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